Transparency is un-American? Donald Trump’s executive order granting William Barr the authority to declassify evidence and documents related to the origins of Operation Crossfire Hurricane might present opportunities for reasonable criticism. A lack of patriotism would not be among those issues, and yet that’s where House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff immediately went:
President Trump has granted Attorney General William P. Barr “full and complete authority” to declassify government secrets, issuing a memorandum late Thursday that orders U.S. intelligence agencies to cooperate promptly with Barr’s audit of the investigation into Russia’s election interference in 2016.
The president’s move gives Barr broad powers to unveil carefully guarded intelligence secrets about the Russia investigation, which the attorney general requested to allow him to quickly carry out his review, according to the memo. …
The move is likely to further anger Democrats who have said that Barr is using his position as the nation’s top law enforcement official to aggressively protect the president and attack his critics.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leads one of the ongoing congressional investigations of Trump, called the action “un-American.” Trump and Barr, Schiff said in a statement Thursday night, are conspiring to “weaponize law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies.”
This accusation is a little rich coming from Schiff and other leading Democrats. They have just spent the last several weeks demanding the full publication of the unredacted report from Robert Mueller, which would not only illegally expose grand-jury testimony but also the same kind of intelligence that Barr will review for declassification. Democrats clearly wanted those classified and restricted materials disclosed for their own partisan political purposes. Were Schiff and his fellow Democrats also “un-American” all this time?
Besides, Schiff’s argument gets the entire issue reversed. Trump isn’t ordering intelligence agencies to spy on his political enemies; he’s asking Barr to review the material they’ve already collected to see if that’s what happened in 2016. Schiff is suffering a clear case of projection.
Even the Washington Post seems a little puzzled by the claim:
The president is the government’s highest authority over whether national secrets remain classified. His order gives Barr significant authority over agencies that typically hold their secrets close and don’t declassify them easily. While the memo states Barr should consult with the head of an agency before declassifying its secrets, it also demands that Barr get prompt responses and documents from the intelligence community.
The objections coming from Democrats since last night’s announcement ignores that line of authority. The president is the ultimate authority on classification, and can delegate that as he sees fit. Presidents do that in the first instance by appointing people to run intelligence agencies, the same people with whom Barr will work to determine what can be declassified. As I noted last night, the arrangement of putting the AG at the top of the chain is unusual, but hardly “un-American.”
Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff was equally unimpressed with Schiff’s response:
But all they are really doing is providing access to information. If the information shows no wrongdoing, there will be nothing to “weaponize.” If the information shows wrongdoing, consequences should follow.
There is no reason to believe that Attorney General Barr will make improper declassification decisions. If he does — if he makes information publicly available that should be kept secret — it likely will be apparent, and he will have to be held accountable.
Meanwhile, the president’s memorandum will help ensure that Obama-era intelligence officials will be held accountable for wrongdoing, if any, that they engaged in during the 2016 Presidential election and its immediate aftermath.
Holding them accountable is vital if the integrity of our elections is to be upheld. We can’t have one party or set of partisans using the power of the intelligence community to undermine the electoral prospects of the other party.
Color me skeptical still that this will uncover any grand conspiracy in either direction. Almost everyone, probably especially the previous administration, expected Hillary Clinton to win so much that it would have been silly to risk such an operation. What it may demonstrate is that the FBI abused the FISA process and touched off a political meltdown based on the animus of a handful of people within the DoJ and intel communities. That will be important to disclose too, and important for Congress to prevent by reforming the FISA process and demanding new controls on any counter-intelligence operations involving US political candidates.
Abusing those powers to interfere with elections actually is “un-American.” And Americans have the right to know whether that’s what happened in 2016, especially after the collapse of the Russia-collusion hypothesis as probable cause.
Addendum: The move may pay off quickly, Byron York hears:
Talking to plugged-in Republicans about Trump declassification order. They see giving AG Barr authority will speed the process. Added benefit: Quick declassification could allow DOJ IG Horowitz to include more stuff in his upcoming report.
— Byron York (@ByronYork) May 24, 2019
Note that it won’t have an impact on Horowitz’ access, which should have been extensive already. It will allow Horowitz to get more specific in his unclassified conclusions — if Barr can act quickly enough for Horowitz to take advantage of the opening. I’d guess it will take a little more time than just a few weeks to get the wheels turning, however.